Corollaries of Strain Breeding, Part I

1991 By Charles C. Craver
Arabian Visions March 1991
(used by by permission of CCCraver)

One of the reasons many Arabian breeders are fascinated by strain breeding theory is that it provides a logical approach to the understanding of Arabian horse pedigrees. It reduces them to simple terms from which evaluations and predictions can be made. For some people the evaluations and predictions are useful. For others they are not. In either case, they are arrived at by a process of reason.

Strain breeding didn’t start out as a logical exercise. Until the 1920s, almost everyone who wrote about the Arabian horse in Arabia observed that the Bedouin horse breeding tribes had different families of horses which they called strains. Such observations, which extend at least until 1970, occur in the works of Burkhardt, Guarmani, Upton, the Blunts, Skene, Tweedy, Davenport, Raswan, Brown, Zientarski, H.R.P. Dickson, Forbis, and others.

These people all had first-hand experience observing the Arabian horse in its native environment. They described the overall breed as divided into strains, and they obviously seemed to think that the strain names described different types of horses. Few such observers thought of the subject of Arabian strains as a subject of logical analysis. To them, it was simply a fact that the Arabian breed was divided into different breeding groups which were identified by strain names.

However, as Arabian horse breeding has become established outside of Arabia, mostly in Egypt, England, the Americas, and Europe, there has been a tendency for breeders to lose sight of basic Bedouin concepts of breeding. One of the first such concepts to be lost was that of strain breeding. It was not well understood outside of Arabia at best. A worse reason for ignoring it was that a number of breeders who set the tone for writing on the subject of Arabian horse breeding came to the conclusion that, after generations of ignoring strain considerations and other standards of Bedouin breeding, Arabian strain concepts no longer fit Arabian horses.

This position has too often been both right and wrong. Wrong because some of these people did not understand Arabian strains well enough to know when they were active in a pedigree and when they were not. They didn’t even understand what they were rejecting. Right because it is indeed true that Arabian breeding has arrived at a point where there are many registered Arabian horses which are so far removed in type and pedigree from the Arabian horse of Arabia that Bedouin standards no longer apply to them, including strain standards. For such horses, it is not reasonable to think in terms of strain breeding.

By the 1920s, most writers on the subject of Arabian breeding were thinking mainly about “breeding the best to the best” and trying to produce good cavalry horses. About that time a young German immigrant to this country, Carl Raswan (born Carl Schmidt), began a lifelong career as a horseman and writer in which he presented a theory as to how Arabian strains could be used to produce certain types of Arabian horses.

Raswan repeatedly made the point that he had not invented his version of strain breeding. As evidence, he referenced written testimony of Bedouin breeders of historic record Western Horseman:  “Pure Strains of Arabians,” (pages 42-44) as well as his own contacts with Bedouin breeders in Arabia, where he had traveled extensively, and his study of Arabian breeding outside of Arabia. Thus, his contribution to strain breeding theory was presented as a matter of restatement, systematization, and interpretation.

Raswan had no monopoly on strain-breeding theory. Other people have had their own ideas on the subject and conducted excellent breeding programs based upon them. Polish breeding, for instance, is said to place importance on strain-breeding principles, and Raswan maintained that, by his criteria, Lady Wentworth was, in effect, a closet strain breeder, a proposition which she articulately denied.

American breeders have used strain breeding of one form or another from the time of our very first American breeder, Randolph Huntington. Other Americans who strain bred were Homer Davenport, Peter Bradley, Alice Payne, John Doyle, Jane and Carl Asmis, numerous breeders associated with Al Khamsa-type horses, and a multitude of people who deliberately or not, followed concepts of type and pedigree which amount to strain breeding. The concepts of strain breeding have been widely observed in the United States. They are not unusual, esoteric, or extreme. But sometimes they are not recognized.

Raswan’s version of strain breeding was unusual in that it was comprehensive for Arabian breeding. It was not universally accepted in the Arabian horse community. It offended some people, perhaps because it did not treat their horses well. Others did not follow its logic, and some simply didn’t agree with it.

Raswan himself was a persuasive personality and a convincing writer, but his work lost some public crediblility because his lifestye was unconventional, and because from time to time he made statements about Arabian horse breeding which he perhaps understood but appeared to be contradictory to some people. Also, he had the disadvantage of publishing over a period of forty some years. During that time there were changes of position, sometimes based on normal thought developement, and sometimes on new information such as constantly turns up concerning Arabian horses. It is very difficult matter for an author to be completely consistent over such a long period of time.

Over the years, a number of critics have rejected Raswan strain theory because they disagreed with his stand in favor of purist breeding. The two were not the same at all and, in fact, the strain theory provides a means of correcting what Raswan felt to be mistakes in purist breeding so that they no longer have practical effect.

In spite of criticism, Raswan’s concept of strain breeding received wide distribution among Arabian breeders, with some finding it convincing and others being less attracted to it. In recent times, a resurgence of interest seems to be in process. Perhaps this results from the increasing tendency at our Arabian horse shows and in pictures in our national magazines, for the Arabian horse as registered to look less and less like what people recognize as a real Arabian horse. Strain-breeding theory is perceived as offering a program for returning to a recognizable type of Arabian horse.

There are several basic propositions upon which Raswan’s theories of strain breeding are based. These have been described numerous places and will be listed here with only brief explanations. Readers who desire more detail are referred first of all to Raswan’s own written work, of which perhaps the most convenient instance is The Raswan Index. A survey of the subject was included in “Kissing the Frog Prince,” by the present writer in Arabian Visions, May and June issues of 1989.

Proposition 1: The horses bred by the Bedouins of Arabia could be classified as belonging to three major strain groups:

1) the Kuhaylan group: “Strength-type: masculine, muscular, wide across back, croup, chest, neck, forehead, and broad across forearm and gaskins. Even the mares are muscular-masculine;

2) the Saqlawi group, tending to have high neck and tail carriage: “Beauty-type: feminine, elegant, fine boned, extremely handsome. The Parade and Show Type. Even the stallions are extremely beautiful-feminine,”

3) the Mu’niqi group, “the Angular-Race-type: with long lines (long back, long neck, long legs, and long, narrow head), also taller than the ‘Classic’-type-Arabian and also coarser (often ugly in appearance and in temperament).” (Strain descriptions from The Arab and His Horse, page 28.)

Each breeding group has other distinctive details as well, concerning which, the reader is referred to Raswan’s work. There was at least one possible exception to the classification of Arabian strains into three breeding groups, and that concerned the Hadban strain. In personal conversation, Raswan said this strain was neither Saqlawi, Kuhaylan, or My’niqi, but that horses of this strain crossed best with those of Kuhaylan bloodlines. However, in his Western Horseman article “The Head of the Arabian,” and in the table of strains published by the same magazine in the article “Undistinguished Types of Arabian Horses,” he gives the Hadban and Kuhaylan strains as related, as he does in The Arab and His Horse, page 28, and elsewhere.

It ought to be kept in mind that by classifying the multitude of Arabian strains into three major breeding groups, Raswan was not indicating that individual strains within each breeding didn’t have their own characteristics. On the contary, he obviously felt that the separate strains within the larger breeding groups had distinctive features. These are described in detail in the section titled “Arabian Strains” in The Raswan Index.

Proposition 2: Bred within their own divisions of the three breeding groups, Arabian horses tend to produce according to their groups. Thus Saqlawi bred to a Saqlawi, tends to produce a Saqlawi. A Kuhaylan bred to a Kuhaylan, tends to produce a Kuhaylan. A Mu’niqi bred to a Mu’niqi tends to produce a Mu’niqi.

Proposition 3: The Kuhaylan and Saqlawi strains are related, and when individuals of these strains are bred to each other, harmonious, attractive individuals result which may lack the extreme features of either parent strain, but are recognizable of “Classic” Arabian type.

Proposition 4: The Mu’niqi strain is fundamentally unrelated to the Kuhaylan and Saqlawi strains. When individuals of it or other unrelated bloodlines are crossed with Kuhaylan and Saqlawi bloodlines, “classic” Arabian type deteriorates. It was Raswan’s theory that the lack of type in many Arabian horses of his time as a writer (roughly 1925 to 1966), was the result of unsuccessful crosses between the Mu’niqi and the Kuhaylan and Saqlawi breeding groups.

The propositions given here as the basics of Raswan strain theory provide an interesting tool for analyzing the Arabian horse as a breed. By themselves, however, they are not very useful in guiding actual Arabian breeders in production of Arabian horses according to predictable patterns. They are simply too general to have much specific application: it is fine to know that there are different major families of Arabian horses, but that does not tell how to plan flesh-and-blood matings between horses.

“Corollaries of Strain Breeding, Part II” will follow in the April 1991 Classic Arabian Issue.

Raswan, C.R., The Arab and His Horse, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 55-11083.

Raswan, C.R., The Raswan Index. Published in several editions. References here are given by topic rather than page number as a convenience to readers.

Raswan, C.R., A Collection of Articles by Carl Raswan, a private republication by Alice L. Payne and her son Robert of articles by Carl Raswan originally appearing in Western Horseman magazine.

Raswan, C.R., “Key” to Arabian Pedigrees. Originally copyrighted in 1956, this document was later incorporated into The Raswan Index.